God Makes a Way
by Mbaluka, Susan
Death Was Ever Imminent
“You were so sick and emaciated that nobody wanted to hold you even for a minute. People thought you were going to die like your older sister. Nobody wanted you to die in his or her hands. Measles almost sent you to the grave. Since you did not die as a toddler, don’t worry about poisonous snakes under your bed, rhinoceros in our garden, or the witch doctors in our village. The God who sustained you while your brother and your sister died will preserve your life,” my mother told me.
I felt a bit comforted, but I did not say a word. I could still remember the rhino and a calf that had passed a few meters from our grass-thatched, mud-walled hut the previous week only to get news two days later that the animal killed a man and his wife in the neighboring village.
On this day, I had been given the responsibility of making sure that the fire was kept burning under the clay pot that stood on the three stone woodstove in the middle of the hut cooking maize mixed with beans for lunch. There was a big heap of firewood outside the hut for this purpose. In addition to keeping the fire burning under the pot, I was also supposed to keep adding water to the pot whenever it was needed to ensure that the food did not burn. It was whilst doing this that I heard drums and screams from the other side of the village. On listening more keenly, I heard “Mbusya nisu (there comes a rhino).”
For a moment, I did not feel the smoke that ruthlessly burned my eyes. I stood at the door of the hut and called to my younger siblings who were playing outside. As the young children ran into the hut, I continued standing at the door wondering exactly where the animal was passing and at what part of the forest my older brother, Laki, was grazing our cows. I also wondered whether my mother had heard the warning from where she worked in the farm.
Suddenly, in lightning speed, Mother appeared from the jungle, the edges of her multi-colored headscarf flying in the air, and gave the hut one sweeping look with her bright eyes. She saw that we were all there apart from my older brother. Then she stood in front of the hut, her slender body giving the appearance of a warrior ready to attack, calling, “Laki, Laki!” Laki answered from the other side of the jungle.
“Climb up a tree. A rhino is coming. Do you hear?” A trumpet could not have been louder than Mother at that time.
“Yes, Mother, I’m climbing up a tree now,” my brother echoed.
After two or so minutes, his voice could be heard again. “Mother, I’m at the top of a tree now.”
“Stay there until I tell you to come down,” Mother instructed him.
“Yes, Mother,” he replied.
Once Mother ensured that her children were safe, she joined the other villagers in warning everybody in the village and the neighboring village that a rhino was coming. Within a few minutes, the rhino and a calf passed by a few meters from our hut. The huge animal walked slowly at the pace of the calf. A few minutes later, Mother came into the hut and, with a long, large wooden scoop, took some food out of the pot. It was ready and had just enough water in it. “Susana, you are diligent. The food is ready and well done. Very good,” she told me. I smiled with confidence.
But that was then. This particular day, I felt different.
Up to the late 1960s, Makueni District in Kenya was mainly a jungle heavily inhabited by pythons, buffalos, rhinos, and many other dangerous wild animals roaming freely. Nobody seemed distressed by the presence of the animals; however, this day my mother noticed that I was quieter than usual.
“You look worried, Susana. What’s the problem?” she asked.
“The sun is setting,” I said almost in a whisper.
“Darkness doesn’t bite anybody, my child. I’ve told you this many times. Anyway, we are about to go home. Tie your firewood together as I finish cutting this branch; then we will go in and light a fire before the sun sets completely,” Mother told me.
I grabbed my rope and finished tying my firewood even before she completed cutting the branch of dry wood. I then stood in front of her begging her with my eyes to leave the pursuit of more firewood for another day.
I had a phobia of darkness even though electricity was unknown in our village. Glowing wood splints lit the whole hut at night. Although the mud walls had deep cracks, I felt much safer there at night. I did not like to put my bare feet in grass at night. All the same, on this day I was more scared of the darkness than usual. The previous night a snake had crawled under the door of our hut and had slithered under the bed that I shared with my sister. Our hens with their chicks slept under our bed. I was awakened by the hens screeching as the snake feasted on their chicks.
My sister and I were too scared to move. Normally, we would have jumped over to our mother’s bed, which was on the other side of the hut, but my mother had a little child, so she could not help fight the intruder. My young brother, considering himself the only man in the house, woke up, pulled dry grass off from the side of the hut, and lit it from the cooking fire in the center of the hut. This allowed him enough light to see the red snake that had wound itself under my bed after hearing the commotion. My brother killed it by shooting it with a bow and arrow.
All this time, my mother had called on God to save us. After the snake was killed, Mother started talking as if to resuscitate us from our state of shock.
“God protects us from all dangers,” she said.
We were silent. We were still in shock.
“The snakes are numerous now just because we moved here recently. After some time, you will not see so many of them in the homestead,” she encouraged us. “I wish your father could come home for a few days. He would help to clear the homestead of bushes,” she posed.
“Yes, Mother, I wish Father could come home, too. It’s been a long time since I have seen him,” I responded, my head still buried in my blankets.
“I know. It’s been five years now, but he has to stay in Nairobi and work every day so that he can raise money for your brother’s school fees. If he comes home, he will not be paid. Watchmen are only paid for the days they work,” Mother explained.
Now that the snake was dead and the hens had quieted down, Mother encouraged us to relax and sleep. But it was not easy to fall asleep; my heart was still racing as if I had just competed in a 200-meter race in the World Games. Whenever my sister’s foot touched mine, I imagined a snake had now made it to our bed. So I curled myself up as a cabbage. Poisonous snakes had killed two of my cousins and one of our dogs. I did not want to have anything to do with them.
I don’t know what time I fell asleep, but the next thing I heard was Mother calling me.
“Susana, don’t you fear the cane of the teacher today? Wake up, wash your face, and put on your school uniform. Your porridge will be ready in a minute.”
I woke up at once, glanced at the steaming pot of porridge, and taking water in a calabash, went out of the hut and poured the water in a basin to wash my face and legs. I bathed completely on the weekends or on some evenings. Even though I did not take a full bath on a daily basis, I knew I was clean. After all, the previous week a lady teacher at school had announced in front of the class, “Susana’s face is brighter than other children’s.”
By the time I entered the hut, Mother had poured the porridge into a half gourd and cooled it enough for me to gulp it in a few minutes. My lunch, usually maize mixed with beans, our staple food, was packed in a bowl that had an improvised cover and was tied tightly with a piece of cloth so that even if the bowl fell as I ran through the forest the food would not spill. I put on my school uniform: a green khaki dress and a yellow blouse that I wore under the short-sleeved dress. Primary school students did not wear shoes to school, and in any case, I had never owned any. After gulping my porridge, I grabbed the packed food and stormed out of the hut walking as fast as my tender legs could carry me. Whenever we were late, the teacher would discipline us with his cane as if we were wild animals infected with rabies.
“Which route should I take?” I asked Mom.
“Go through the forest so that you get to school on time,” she told me.
“I’m afraid of the forest,” I retorted.
“My child, the rhinos and buffalos have not been seen anywhere in our village for a while. The hunters have killed them all. Besides, God will go with you. What are you afraid of?” she questioned.
“Crawling things.” I did not want to mention their name.
“Oh, you are still thinking about last night’s snake. All right, take whichever path you like,” she told me.
“I will take the main path. The sun is not up yet, so it must be early. I will not be late,” I said as I disappeared. I wished that my younger sisters were old enough to go with me to school.
Taking the forest route meant walking for seven miles through one long mass of tall grass, bushes, and trees. Although rhinos and buffalos were rare in the district by the time I started going to school, pythons often swallowed dogs and goats, and poisonous snakes killed people. And besides, my childhood memories of the rhinos and buffalos were still fresh in my mind. However, the idea of God protecting us from all dangers, as Mom told us repeatedly, was comforting.
My mother’s faith in God and her courage kept me going. Her fortitude gave me strength to go to school even though witches and witchdoctors spread scary concoctions and dead birds along my path. Mother would tell me, “You are not a devil worshipper. You have nothing to do with their sacrifices; just walk over their concoctions and go to school.”
It was believed that the witches and witchdoctors transferred sicknesses and misfortunes to the dead birds and other sacrifices and then took the sacrifices to the road to pass on to another person. It was believed that the first person to walk over the sacrifices picked up the sickness or misfortune transferred to the sacrifice. Our neighbor was a famous witchdoctor. Many people visited him to be treated so that they could not be bewitched or to undo bewitching and misfortunes that were on them. People bitten by mosquitoes would often develop a high fever and chills from malaria, but they would think they had been bewitched. They would then rush to the witchdoctor to be treated. Many times malaria and other diseases killed people because they visited the witchdoctors instead of seeking proper treatment. But these doctors were more trusted than the hospital in the area, which was a five-hour walk from our village. Because of superstition, people traveling very early in the morning would turn back and cancel their trips to avoid walking over the concoctions and sacrifices on the road.
Normally, the paths were very narrow and along the sides ran big thorny fences to keep cows and other domestic animals from straying into other people’s gardens or property. Since I had to walk very early in the morning to cover the seven miles to school before 8:00 a.m., I had no choice but to walk over the sacrifices, which were mostly placed at night or in the wee hours of the morning.
Mother frequently reminded me that sicknesses and misfortunes would not come upon me just because I walked over evil sacrifices. She told me that God protected Christians. Looking back now, I know that Mother had very little knowledge about God. She had been in contact with some missionaries long before she married my father and had converted to Christianity. Her parents had been converted, too. That is how she was able to have a firm faith in God in the midst of so many heathens. However, she was still a baby in Christianity.
I saw Matthew 17:20 fulfilled in her: “And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.” Mother’s little faith was able to inspire confidence and peace in my siblings and me when most other people in our village lived in fear of contracting diseases or having misfortunes fall upon them from walking over some natural plants mixed with animal blood.
The kind of darkness we had in our village in the sixties and the seventies is rare in most parts of the world today. However, Satan still uses the same principles. People still hold beliefs that are Satan’s lies to enslave them. “God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith” (Rom. 12:3). What we do with that faith will determine whether we, as Christians, will be able to stand firm for God even if the heavens fall.
Even though Mother only completed grade three in school, she wanted her children to become teachers. The most educated, most respected person, the one who had the best lifestyle in the village, was a teacher. And though teachers were extremely rare in those days, Mother had seen them in her district, Mbooni, where she had come in contact with missionaries. She knew something better than the poverty, superstition, disease, and ignorance she experienced in the village.
Makueni District was notorious for droughts. Once droughts hit, farmers went hungry and their children dropped out of school. Professionals like teachers had a salary. They could always buy food. Mother wanted us to have better lives and a future. That is why she was able to transcend the cultural belief of the day that educating a girl was a waste of time and resources; she educated all five of her daughters.
Nothing could stop Mother from working toward her vision. Even though Dad was totally illiterate, Mother was able to inspire him enough to leave home and go to the city of Nairobi to get a job as a watchman in order to pay for our education.
At the time Dad left home, our house was on a fifty-acre farm. The homestead was clear of bushes and long grass, but the house was next to the main path in the village, and there was a lot of disturbance from passersby, especially drunkards. Some of these men would walk for miles looking for traditional brew. After drinking themselves almost to a crawling position, they would stagger back to the village late at night. On reaching the village, some would start calling the names of their wives at the top of their voices. Others would yell insults at their enemies in the village. Therefore, in pursuit of security, peace, and privacy, Mother, with the help of a hired man in the village, moved deeper into the jungle and put up a simple hut for our family.
Years passed quickly; soon I was in standard seven, and it was time to sit for the C.P.E. (Certificate of Primary Education). This was the final exam at the completion of primary (elementary) education; this was a national exam that all the children in Kenya wrote at the end of standard seven (the equivalent of grade eight). The exam was set by the Ministry of Education. Children who performed well were admitted to secondary (high) schools. There were so few secondary schools in Kenya that there were not enough slots for everyone who completed elementary school. Hence, the examination was an elimination tool. A few of the young people in our village who had made it to standard seven sought supernatural powers from witch doctors in order to pass the exam. The kids who visited the witch doctors were either given some traditional medicines tied tightly in a piece of cloth to carry with them (especially on the days of the exam) or deep cuts on their skin with black powder rubbed on the cuts or both. At school we saw these marks, and our peers told us why they had them. A few days before our exam, I reported these happenings to my mother.
In response, she confidently told me, “Your supernatural powers come from the God of Abraham and Isaac. We will pray for you every day. That will be your empowering potion.”
I relaxed. The exam came at last. We sat for it, and then we had to wait one month for the results.
I wonder how I would have felt if, as we waited for the results, Mom would have read Philippians 4:6, 7 to me: “Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”
End of preview.
Here is the Table of Contents of the complete book:
Chapter 1 Death Was Ever Imminent
Chapter 2 Blessings Disguised in a Painful Accident
Chapter 3 I Learned About Sabbath
Chapter 4 God Gave Me the Desires of My Heart
Chapter 5 A Wedding or Eloping at Night?
Chapter 6 Mystery Solved
Chapter 7 Miracle Deliverance
Chapter 8 Peace Beyond Understanding
Chapter 9 Trusting God Through Threats of Death
Chapter 10 God’s Plan Was the Best
Chapter 11 In The Wilderness
Chapter 12 God Rescued Me From Satan’s Attack
Chapter 13 Incredible Flight From Chattanooga to Houston
Chapter 14 Witnessing at Advent Home
Chapter 15 Miracle Ticket to Kenya
Chapter 16 Missionary Work While in Kenya
Chapter 17 I Was Sent to Visit a Family
Chapter 18 Back to the U.S. With Anxiety
Chapter 19 Distracted From Writing
Chapter 20 God Overcame for Me
Chapter 21 I Received a Call
Chapter 22 Where Are You Going From Advent Home?
Chapter 23 Reunited at Last